Photo courtesy of UAB Athletics.
Kayla Anderson goes up for a shot against Lipscomb in 2014. She broke UAB’s record for career blocks this past December.
Kayla Anderson has been nothing but a winner her entire life.
The former Hoover High star and current senior forward on the UAB women’s basketball team has excelled at every level she has played.
Anderson started playing basketball for the Alabama Twisters AAU team in fifth grade. That team won six straight state championships. She then played on the varsity squad at HHS all four years as a student. The Lady Bucs reached the state title game each season, winning two of them in 2010 and 2012.
Now, Anderson is currently completing her senior campaign at UAB, a program that has had a winning season in each of her three seasons on campus.
The desire to win is strong, and her track record proves she knows what it takes to achieve victory. But the love of winning is not the only factor driving her. The fear of the opposite outcome looms larger.
“For me, it’s not even so much about winning. I hate to lose more than I love to win,” Anderson said.
To prove that she is all about winning, Anderson’s success as a basketball player has been squarely rooted in her ability to block shots, play solid defense and do the things that are not necessarily eye-popping numbers on the stat sheet.
On Dec. 13, in a game against South Alabama, Anderson broke the UAB record for blocked shots in a career. Deanna Jackson, Conference USA Player of the Year in 2001, previously held the mark and is undoubtedly one of the best players in program history.
The 6-foot-1 forward makes no attempt to hide the fact that she was gunning for the record.
“The block record is something that I’ve been trying to reach since my freshman year here at UAB, and I’m glad that I got it early in my senior year,” she said.
Blocked shots do not just happen by chance. Much like any other facet of the game, there is an art and a philosophy when swatting shots away from the goal.
“When I block a shot, my objective is to keep the ball in play as many times as possible. I don’t want to block it out of bounds or block it back into that person’s hands,” Anderson said.
“She never tried to slap the ball out of bounds,” said Donnie Quinn, Anderson’s high school coach at Hoover. “That helped her stay out of foul trouble and helped her stay on the court longer to reach that record. It does no good to block shots if you foul every time.”
Quinn, now the boys’ basketball coach at Spain Park High School, played a large role in preparing her to succeed at the college level, because his offense requires a “high basketball IQ.” The results proved themselves, as his Lady Bucs made the AHSAA Class 6A Final Four each season Anderson was there and sent many members of those teams to the next level.
He also saw Anderson’s mentality develop as she progressed through high school.
“There are winners and there are people that aren’t winners,” Quinn said. “There are players that have skills, but not what it takes to get there. She was fortunate to play on some good teams.”
Anderson uses the attitude she developed to fuel everything she does on the basketball court. She is willing to extend that competitive desire to members of her own team, if it comes to that.
“I do not like to feel like I’m not giving my best or that someone is outdoing me,” she said. “If someone is having a good practice, then I have to have a great practice. That’s how we work at practice and that’s how I push my teammates.”
Anderson broke Jackson’s record of 125 career blocks in large part due to a breakout sophomore campaign in the 2013-2014 season, as she set another school record with 56 blocks in a single season.
That single-season mark could have been much higher, if not for a torn ACL in her knee late in the season that caused Anderson to miss UAB’s final five games. At the time, she was playing the best basketball of her life.
“She was getting better and better,” UAB head coach Randy Norton said, who was in his first season leading the Blazers at the time. “I told her at that time that if she continues to improve, she was going to be an all-conference player.”
Anderson returned a handful of games into the next season, but nearly two years after the injury, is still not playing at her full capacity.
“It’s changed the way I play,” Anderson admitted. “I’m not as quick as I used to be and I can’t move as fast as everyone else on the court, so I had to learn how to adjust and anticipate better.”
Audra Smith was the head coach at UAB at the time Anderson signed with the Blazers. Choosing to accept the program’s scholarship offer was not a hard decision, as Anderson has been familiar with the program for the majority of her life.
“All I knew was UAB basketball. Even before Coach Smith started recruiting me, I was already up here at men’s and women’s games, watching games as a little girl,” she said.
She has never been on a team with a losing record, but that’s not the measure Anderson uses to define seasons that did not live up to expectations.
“I’ve had seasons where I felt like we came up short,” she said. “We could’ve done a lot better and we just didn’t reach the goal that we set for ourselves.”
Kayla Anderson has won just about everything, but there are still goals to achieve in her last season at UAB.
“I want to put my team in a good position so that when we get to the conference tournament, we come out on top. I want to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.”